The horror genre loves to franchise. Whether the big bad rises from the dead or a copycat takes their place, countless horror films end with a sequel tease in the final frame. This trend was especially true in the 1980s, when some of the genre’s biggest names (A Nightmare on Elm Street, Friday the 13th, Halloween) were turned into franchises, despite their creator’s original intentions.
While the reign of these past horror franchises has slowed down in recent years, films such as Saw and The Conjuring have carried the torch. Some of the best horror films of the past thirty years have stayed standalone, however, telling great spooky stories without resorting to making sequels with diminishing returns.
‘Shaun of the Dead’ (2004)
While Shaun of the Dead exists within the Three Flavors Cornetto trilogy, the story of two slackers battling a horde of zombies is a standalone story. The film follows the titular Shaun (Simon Pegg) and his best friend Ed (Nick Frost) as they attempt to reunite with Shaun’s mother and ex-girlfriend amidst a zombie outbreak.
Shaun It is regarded as one of the greatest horror comedies of all time and launched Pegg, Frost, and director Edgar Wright into stardom. The trio replicated their success with Hot Fuzz and The World’s Endbut Shaun of the Dead remains their greatest accomplishment.
Shaun of the Dead is available to stream on Amazon Prime Video.
Tucker & Dale vs. Tucker. Evil’ (2010)
A subversion of the tropes of backwoods horror movies, Tucker & Dale vs. Evil finds two friendly rednecks tormented by a group of college students. After a misunderstanding results in the youngsters believing the locals are holding their friend hostage, they begin to die in overly gory accidents.
Tucker & Dale is as brilliant as it is funny, as the likable leads attempt to discover why the tourists keep dying in their yard. A sequel has been discussed over the years, with the cast and crew commenting optimistically on its chances, though nothing official has ever been announced.
Tucker & Dale vs. Evil is available to stream on Tubi.
This underrated thriller from James Mangold (Logan) is one of the best mystery films of the 21st century. When 11 strangers find themselves stranded at a remote motel in the middle of a storm, they soon fall prey to a murderer. It isn’t long before the survivors discern that the killer is among them.
Featuring a great cast that includes John Cusack, Amanda Peetand the late, great Ray Liotta, Identity‘s brilliant screenplay offers plenty of twists and turns as the stranded party is whittled down. The film will keep you guessing as it leads to an unforgettable climax.
Identity is available to stream on Netflix.
‘The Loved Ones’ (2009)
Described as Pretty in Pink meets Wolf Creek, this horror flick from Australia shows how terrifying young love can be. When the shy Lola Stone asks her crush, Brent, to the high school dance, he kindly rejects her. Not taking no for an answer, Lola and her devoted father kidnap Brent and subject him to their own twisted prom night.
Robin McLeavy is fantastic as the deeply disturbed Lola, the pink-dressed killer, one of the best horror characters of the 2000s. As Brent’s friends and family search for him, the teenager is tormented with a party full of nails, power drills, and boiling hot kettles. The Loved Ones is not for the faint-hearted.
‘The Faculty’ (1998)
A ’90s take on Invasion of the Body Snatchers, The Faculty is a part of the post-Scream teen horror craze. Made by the iconic director Robert Rodriguez and Scream scribe Kevin Williamson, the film swaps slashers for sci-fi as body-possessing aliens take over a high school in small-town America. It falls to a ragtag group of students to save the day, led by a baby-faced Elijah Wood.
While ’90s horror is often criticized for being an era full of Scream copycats, The Faculty is an entertaining ride full of great set-pieces and memorable characters. The involvement of a talented cast and crew elevate it to stand as one of the best horror films of the 1990s.
The Faculty is available to stream on HBO Max.
An under-seen slasher flick from Ireland, Stitches stars comedian Ross Noble as a teen-murdering clown. When a prank results in the children’s entertainer dying in a grizzly accident, he rises from the grave to hunt down the now-teenagers that are responsible. Conveniently, they have all gathered at a remote house party…
Paying homage to the slasher movies of the 1980s, Stitches the clown dispatches his victims in various creative and gory ways. The fact that Stitches has never produced a sequel is a shame, as the concept seems ripe for a slasher franchise to join the likes of Friday the 13thand A Nightmare on Elm Street.
Stitches is available to stream on Amazon Prime Video and Shudder.
‘Event Horizon’ (1997)
This Sci-Fi chiller bombed at the box office but has since achieved cult classic status. Set in a future where humanity has mastered space travel, a crew of astronauts led by Laurence Fishburne and Sam Neill is sent to investigate a spaceship when it reappears after seven years of radio silence. What follows is a literal journey into hell, as the missing ship has become a portal to a demonic realm.
Directed by Paul W.S. Anderson before he made a career out of directing video game adaptations, Event Horizonis an atmospheric “haunted house” movie set in space and deserves a place alongside Alienat the pinnacle of the sci-fi horror genre.
Event Horizon is available to stream on Showtime.
‘The Cabin in the Woods’ (2012)
The best deconstruction of the horror genre since Scream, The Cabin in the Woods is a self-aware meta masterpiece. When five friends take a trip to a (you guessed it) cabin in the woods, every horror cliché is thrown on its head as the teens find themselves up against sinister forces.
Starring a pre-ThorChris Hemsworth, the film is full of great performances and a razor-sharp screenplay full of quotable moments. As if the creators are also aware of Hollywood’s trend to turn great horror films into franchises, the film is created in a way that offers a full stop to its story and kills the chance for a sequel.
Before he was winning Academy Awards for his The Lord of the Rings trilogy, Peter Jackson was a humble horror filmmaker from New Zealand. His early efforts were low-budget gore fests, and Braindead (Dead Alive in the US) is no exception, regarded as one of the goryest films of all time.
After an exotic rat monkey bites his controlling mother, adult Lionel is forced to keep his zombie mother locked inside their house. Things don’t go to plan, of course, and after the rest of his town is turned into the undead, Lionel is forced to step up with a lawnmower in his hands and be the hero.
‘I Saw the Devil’ (2010)
This acclaimed cat-and-mouse thriller from South Korea is for anyone who likes their horror bleak. After a serial killer brutally murders his fiancée, government agent Kim Soo-hyeon (Lee Byung-hun) captures the man responsible and subjects him to a series of chases that often end in torture.
I Saw the DevilFocuses on the thin line between good and evil and explores how far the just will go to punish the wicked. While the killer Jang Kyung-chul (the superbly menacing Choi Min-sik) is more than deserving of the violence inflicted upon him, the film is more focused on exploring its lawful protagonist and his descent into darkness.
I Saw the Devil is available to stream on Tubi.
KEEP READING: The 25 Best Thrillers of the 21st Century (So Far)